Daniel Day-Lewis is not someone in the film industry like Woody Allen who is involved with a new project each year. Day-Lewis is very particular about the roles he chooses, often with lengthy time gaps between his film appearances. His 1989 biopic My Left Foot saw him taking on the remarkable challenge of portraying a man with cerebral palsy, although Day-Lewis is able-bodied in real life. This is yet another instance in which he exhibits his incredible talent as an actor, not shying away from an ambitious task.
The disabled individual that Daniel Day-Lewis plays in this film is so much more than what he appears to be on the outside. Christy Brown’s impairments resulted from complications during his birth. For the initial portion of the film, a young Christy Brown was portrayed by a child actor (Hugh O’Conor). As he grew up, these issues made his life extremely difficult. Most people viewed him with a lot of pity and sorrow, believing that his physical disabilities impacted his functions mentally as well. However, as he grows into a young man, Brown begins to display amazing intelligence and artistic ability. The only part of his body that he can control is his left foot. Showing immense determination, he grasps chalk with this foot, writing messages in order to communicate with his family, making it apparent that his mental faculties are on a normal level. This specific scene had a strong emotional impact on the audience. Visually, we see Brown profusely sweating as he exerts himself. This is a snapshot of the tenacious character of Christy Brown.
The story of this film is told in a very fascinating manner. It is basically conveyed in flashbacks, through an autobiography written by Brown. The film also skips ahead in time on a few occasions. During one of these transitions is where we are introduced to Daniel Day-Lewis’ portrayal of Brown. Day-Lewis devoted himself whole-heartedly to this role. According to Biography.com, he even inflicted injury upon his ribs and stayed in a wheelchair consistently during filming in order to gain a more authentic feel of the individual that he was representing. This resulted in a very convincing acting performance. As Brown grew older, he showcased his talent as an artist and painter. We also get a glimpse into his curt, snippy personality. Just because he is physically challenged does not mean that he cannot have a spunky sense of humor. Once again, Day-Lewis pulls this off perfectly. Brown eventually gains more physical control over his body with years of hard work and dedication, learning how to speak and communicate more effectively with others. His art projects and various other endeavors gain honorable recognition. Yet, he still struggles with personal relationships. Mentally, nothing separates him from other people in the world. Physically however, there are many barriers that stand between him and others, an illustration of a Man vs. Society character conflict. This is a very tough life to live. It would be much easier for him to give in and fall into a pool of self-pity (Man vs. Himself conflict). There are a few instances in which he does lose this battle. An incredibly difficult aspect of this is the fact that he was born with these issues, and he has done all he can to fight them (Man vs. Nature). Overall though, Christy Brown demonstrates a relentless drive to keep plowing forward. I believe that director Jim Sheridan’s goal in telling this story was to show that the human spirit is strong enough to withstand any sort of worldly obstacle that may be put in someone’s path.
In regarding some of the technical aspects of this film, there were certain filming elements incorporated in order to give the audience a feel for the mid-twentieth century time period and Irish location. The majority of the cast had natural Irish accents, and their style of living fit in with the time era as well. We saw what poor Irish families lived like in the mid 1900s, and how tight-knit these communities were. The lighting was soft and dull, not bright and glamorous like you might find in an action flick. One of the most impactful scenes in this film was the opening one. Right as the movie opens, we see a foot grasp a music record and put it on a record player, with the resulting music effectively becoming a part of the film’s background soundtrack. While there is no dialogue in this scene, the audience is introduced to what the entire movie will be centered around. As a man with cerebral palsy, Christy Brown struggles with speech. But, his actions propel the film onward, and are the foundation of this intriguing story.
Perhaps the most incredible thing about this film is the fact that it is based on the life of a real man. Daniel Day-Lewis has always been drawn to films that have real life elements and are inspired by historical events. His performance in My Left Foot made it all the more successful in my opinion. Personally, I was emotionally drained after viewing this feature. With a storyline like this, I think that was certainly an intention of Jim Sheridan, a director with whom Day-Lewis worked with on many occasions throughout his career. This of course was not a fast-paced film with action around everycorner, but a slow, methodical life story of a remarkable person. These aspects make this film an acquired taste. Still, the passion and commitment poured into this cinematic project are enough to earn a “B” grade from me.